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Stand with Trans and Other Michigan Orgs React to Trans Teen Nex Benedict's Death

Far right pushes for national anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ+ measures

Sarah Bricker Hunt

Even as conservative members of the U.S. Congress threaten to shut down the federal government unless new anti-trans measures are adopted, organizations across the country, including several in Michigan, are responding to the recent death of a 16-year-old non-binary student in Owasso, Oklahoma and demanding action from elected officials. 

Six Michigan-based organizations released a joint statement on Feb. 23 about the death of Nex Benedict, who died after suffering severe head injuries during what police have described as a “physical altercation” in their high school bathroom. The statement, issued by Equality Michigan, Grand Rapids Pride Center, Great Lakes Bay Pride, Outcenter Southwest Michigan, the SJ Call-In Coalition and Stand with Trans, reads in part, “As a collective of organizations, we strongly condemn the events leading to the untimely loss of Nex Benedict, a valued non-binary individual. Nex, like all children, deserved the chance to thrive without enduring months of bullying and discrimination. The politically incited violence that claimed Nex's life, stemming from ignorance and intolerance, is unacceptable.”

The statement goes on to demand action from voters and elected officials in Michigan and beyond. “Join us in demanding a thorough and transparent investigation into Nex’s tragic death and holding those responsible, including government officials and school staff, who were entrusted with their safety, accountable. And let's also hold accountable the parents of the students who assaulted Nex,” the statement reads. “Stand up for trans and nonbinary youth by actively intervening and advocating for change. Remember, your vote holds power! Together, let's propel our schools and nation towards a future where affirmation and acceptance is a shared commitment for all.”

“We are steadfast in our commitment to defending voices threatened by hate every day. Additionally, we will continue to support our administrators in Michigan and bring accountability to those allowing cultures of harassment and generally hostile school environments to persist,” the statement continues. “We proudly collaborate with community partners, offering education, networking, resources and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community and allies nationwide. Our heartfelt condolences go to Nex’s family and friends during this challenging time. Together, let's strive for a future where love and acceptance triumph over hate and violence." 

Grand Rapids Trans Foundation posted a statement to Facebook on Feb. 27. "We mourn the heart-rending loss of Nex Benedict (he/they)," the post began. "Nex was a 16-year-old Nonbinary and Two-Spirit Choctaw student, who was assaulted and died at the hands of his peers. Our hearts break from this tragic and senseless violence."

"Events like this do not happen in a vacuum. We are in an increasingly hostile climate where our community is intentionally misunderstood, scapegoated, dehumanized, demonized, and targeted for violence. We’ve seen a surge in anti-2SLGBTQIA+ legislation nationwide that seeks to mar our character, to ignore both science and our lived truths, and to legislate us out of existence," the post continues. "What happened to Nex — and what’s happened to countless other Trans & Nonbinary lives lost every year to anti-Trans violence — leaves scars on our collective hearts. We let this pain remind us that more action is required. We cannot continue to allow these tragedies to happen. We call on you to join us: band together, organize, educate, legislate, protect, and fight like hell for Trans youth everywhere. Their lives depend on it."

Grand Rapids Trans Foundation invites the community to a vigil in honor of Benedict on March 1 hosted by a local organizer (more information at fb.me/e/3GEGOACLE)

The organizations join a chorus of voices nationwide calling out for compassion and renewed support for LGBTQ+ students. "My heart goes out to Nex Benedict’s family, friends and their entire community," said Vice President Harris on Feb. 23. "To the LGBTQI+ youth who are hurting and are afraid right now: President Joe Biden and I see you, we stand with you, and you are not alone." Meanwhile, Karine Jean-Pierre, the first openly gay White House press secretary, addressed the tragedy at the start of the Friday White House briefing. "Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school," she said. "I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country, this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful. There's always someone you can talk to if you're going through a hard time and need support."

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) issued letters to the Departments of Education and Justice demanding federal investigations into Benedict’s death. “Nex’s life demands justice," a letter from HRC to to Attorney General Merrick Garland read. "The Department has various tools available for addressing anti-LGBTQ+ hatred and violence, including through the bringing of a hate crimes investigation and potentially charges that could help hold the perpetrators of these horrific acts against Nex accountable for their hate-fueled violence. In addition, the Department should work with the Department of Education to support their assessment of violations of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause.”

Police in Owasso have said that the death was not caused by physical trauma from the fight at school and are awaiting toxicology reports for more insight into the circumstances surrounding the incident. Benedict’s mother has called the police response a “big cover” and cites months of bullying leading up to the altercation. 

In the meantime, Congress is stalled on passing the federal budget after a delay last year, in part because of a letter published Feb. 21 by the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 46 far-right Republican Congressmembers. In the letter, the cause listed several policies that must be passed for the new budget to receive the support of its members, including policies restricting gender-affirming care, transgender participation in sports, DEI programs and defunding Planned Parenthood. Additionally, several riders targeting transgender people have been included in various government spending bills that could result in large-scale government shutdowns if not handled by March 8, according to independent journalist Erin Reed on her Substack, Erin in the Morning

Reed reported on Feb. 21 that Speaker Mike Johnson’s negotiations reportedly do not include gender-affirming care policies, “upsetting Republicans who have pushed for the inclusion of those policies in the final bill.” President Biden appears opposed to a bill that contains this language. A letter from the House Freedom Caucus, Reed reports, indicates that unless these policies are included, the “probability that the appropriations bills will be supported by even a majority of Republicans” is low.

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